Eugene, Oreg., is the home of the Ducks, the birthplace of Nike Inc. and is commonly referred to as “Tracktown USA.” Since 1921, the University of Oregon in Eugene has regaled track and field aficionados at Hayward Field, named after famed track and field coach Bill Hayward. It’s where Nike co-founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman met and decided to launch a newer, more comfortable running shoe for athletes. It has been the host of numerous Olympic Trials, and will soon be the host of the 2022 World Athletics Championships. With the stadium’s notable reputation in the annals of track and field history, Seattle-based architecture and interior design firm SRG Partnership led the charge for Hayward Field’s renovation, which has improved the stadium’s training facilities, sight lines and seating, as well as provided a more intimate experience for spectators and athletes alike.
“It’s absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Aaron Pleskac, senior project manager from SRG. “This is the type of ask that you dream of. It’s trying to inspire a whole other generation of track and field athletes and fans.”
When the team was first tasked with the project to renovate Hayward Field, they knew two of the key goals of the project were to elevate both the athlete and the spectator experience. Pleskac explained that Hayward Field is different from many other stadiums because it is dedicated solely to one sport, and before the team began working on the redesign, they toured more than 12 similar venues across nine European countries so they could determine what needed to be done to better serve the track and field community back home.
“We toured a number of venues in Europe that were of the size of [Hayward Field] that were dedicated to track and field only and tried to take cues as to what made them unique and take all that knowledge back to Hayward Field,” Pleskac said.
Beyond the athlete and spectator experience, the project team also focused on the history and the flexibility of the site. The team explored ideas for how the stadium could be renovated to make its features user-friendly not just for global events like Olympic Trials and World Championships, but also for smaller-scale NCAA events, athlete training and recovery and more.
“How do you make something that’s flexible, that can flexibly handle broadcast, flexibly handle all of the practice and things that are required, and then still be nestled into the university campus because that site was very, very important for it to stay exactly where it was because it still is the home for the University of Oregon’s track and field program?” Pleskac said.
The stadium houses 12,650 seats and is expandable to hold nearly 25,000 spectators. The team purposefully designed the renovation so that not just the competitive track would be useful to training athletes, but also the supporting features around it. Public concourses and ADA ramps, which total 84,085 square feet, are sealed in track surfacing, and covered dry running tracks allows for athletes to train even during inclement weather. Additional amenities include an indoor two-story space for jumps and pole vaulting, team auditorium, locker rooms, study rooms, weight training spaces, office spaces and more.
“We thought about all the stairs in the place, how can every surface double as a training surface to really enhance that University of Oregon track and field athlete experience?” Pleskac said. “Even down to the adjacent recreation fields, when in a large event, they become the practice tracks, the warm up tracks and you can go on a warm up track and leave your spikes on and walk anywhere in the venue, anywhere throughout the practice facility.”
Because spectator experience was also an important goal of the project, the team wanted to ensure that each spectator felt they were experiencing the best view no matter where they were seated in the stadium. The seating bowl is asymmetrical to allow for the largest concentration of fans to be seated at the finish line.
“[The project] had a lot of aspirational goals to inspire another generation to create a fantastic fan experience,” Pleskac said. “One of those was to create a theater for track and field where every seat in the house had the same sort of premium experience. It’s one of the only venues that has cushioned outdoor seating in every seat, with every seat having fantastic sight lines to the competition.”
The first row of seats in the stadium is at the same level as the track to allow for a more direct experience between athletes and fans.
“When you sit in the front row of Hayward Field, your feet are literally at the same level as the track athletes and you’re one meter away from the outside lane,” Pleskac said. “It’s fantastically intimate.”
The project team recognized that while roofs are an important part of fan experience for acoustic purposes,they tend to make a stadium dark. To avoid that, the team chose to use ETFE cladding, which is transparent and allows for both maximum light and acoustic ability. The team then used glulam wood for the stadium’s canopy structure as a reference to Oregon’s historical connection with wood and the wood industry.
Because the venue is located on campus, the team focused on ways they could better assimilate the stadium to the character of the University of Oregon, maximizing the usage of surrounding spaces to expand Hayward Field’s function while also allowing for natural transitions from campus to stadium and vice versa.
“Everything is thought about in terms of flexibility,” Pleskac said. “One of our charges was we’re throwing down the gauntlet for the next 100 years. So making an investment at this particular location for Hayward Field for the future to inspire whoever’s coming next. We want to make sure it’s significant.”
The team transformed 15th Avenue, one of the main entrances to campus, into a continuously accessible paved public plaza that is closed to vehicles but open to cyclists and pedestrians. This not only allows for extra seating for large events, but also creates a space that can hold amenities that traditionally come with publicly broadcasted athletic events. Pleskac said the plaza can hold space for extra food service, warm up tents, media tents, broadcast trucks and more, keeping them close in proximity to the stadium while also keeping them conveniently out of spectators’ and athletes’ ways.
“Now the north end of the venue [is] left open,” Pleskac said. “You’ve got this direct visual connection to the rest of campus but when you’re in and around campus you have a view inside of Hayward Field itself.”
During the project, the team also added features that pay homage to the history of track and field in “Tracktown USA.” The nine-story Hayward Tower, which houses coach amenities and meeting rooms and serves as the main public entry to the site, is clad in a perforated metal panel that features University of Oregon track and field legends. The design resembles the Olympic torch and is just one of many designs the team incorporated in the renovation as a nod to the university’s decorated athletic history.
“It’s a very historic place…[and] an extremely knowledgeable fan base,” Pleskac said. “Throughout the place [there are] little memorabilia and little pieces sprinkled throughout the entire venues for discovery. If you’re there you can see it, you can’t see it in the distance photos that are usually published. But if you’re up there and up close, you can see all kinds of little pieces of legacy throughout the venue.”
The team also designed a track and field museum at the base of the tower which shows all of its trophies in one place on display.
“There are many aspects of what makes Hayward special through its history, [such as] the handshake deal that Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight made to start a shoe company,” Pleskac said. “This is really one of those things that allows you to have a much deeper understanding of why this place is so important, why Eugene is so important and what makes Hayward special.”
While Hayward Field has been substantially complete since late 2020, the university will be preparing to host the 2022 World Athletics Championships in July, which is the first time the event will be held in the United States.
Pleskac credits the team and its collaborative partners for the completion of the project.
“It was an honor to work on [Hayward Field],” he said. “The team did an amazing job and gave it their all. You think back to the pressure that we had in terms of time and how we crafted partnerships with trade partners and others to leverage their expertise in wood, in ETFE, in precast concrete. The major scopes that are your pinch points in executing a project on time and bringing those experts wherever they are in the world to this one place, all with a shared vision. That’s what really makes this thing so special is that everyone rallied behind the design features, the charge, the understanding of how special this place is and what it means, and everyone gave it their all.”